Toonzone Interviews Genndy Tartakovsky on "Sym-Bionic Titan"
The first major heyday of Cartoon Network came from a raft of new, original programming created by a batch of young up-and-coming artists. One of them was Genndy Tartakovsky, a Russian immigrant who came to the United States at the age of 7, studying film in Chicago at Columbia College and then animation at the California Institute of the Arts. It was at Cal Arts where he met two of his longtime friends and collaborators: Robert Renzetti and Craig McCracken. These three were pivotal in launching some of Cartoon Network’s most popular animated series, including 2 Stupid Dogs, The Powerpuff Girls, and Tartakovsky’s creation Dexter’s Laboratory. His follow-up to Dexter’s Laboratory was 2001’s Samurai Jack, which went on to win multiple Emmy and Annie awards. That series’ over-the-top action and style brought him to the attention of Lucasfilm, who handed Tartakovsky the keys to the kingdom to make a series of short films based on the Clone Wars to bridge the second and third prequel movies. Star Wars: Clone Wars, earning several more Emmy and Annie awards along the way.
In 2005, Tartakovsky founded Orphanage Animation Studios, taking a swing at feature films and advertisements. He has also created a short film for Cartoon Network’s Cartoonstitute and worked on storyboards for Iron Man 2. Now, Tartakovsky is making a triumphant return to television with a new series, Sym-Bionic Titan. Toonzone News caught up with Tartakovsky via e-mail to discuss the new series and also get the scoop on a few other projects Tartakovsky has in the fire.
TOONZONE NEWS: You’ve been Creative President of Orphanage Animation Studios since 2005, and were focusing on animated feature film projects. What got you back into doing a TV series?
GENNDY TARTAKOVSKY: Well, after working in TV for 15 years straight, pretty much without a break, I wanted a different pace, and I wanted to nurture a project so an animated feature seemed like an obvious choice. But the development and selling process was excruciatingly slow. After a few years I began to thirst for the quick and exciting pace of television production.
TZN: When did you come up with the idea for Sym-Bionic Titan? How long did it take you to turn it from a concept to the first episode?
GENNDY TARTAKOVSKY: The initial idea started developing about 3 years ago. It was much different back then, but the initial kernel for the show started then I think. We had a pretty slow start in the beginning so I think from concept to premiere was probably almost 2 years.
GENNDY TARTAKOVSKY: Well, what hasn’t inspired Titan? Mainly, I think the two biggest influences have been John Hughes movies (Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, etc) and G-Force/Battle of the Planets. The character visual style is a mixed bag of goodies. Speed Racer, Astro Boy, the Fleischer Bros., and other Osamu Tezuka manga. The robots were designed by Paul Rudish and I think there’s always a Shogun Warrior aspect but for this project we were inspired by Micronauts (the toy line and not so much the comic book). I’m sure Paul has extra hidden influences that he keeps all to himself!!
TZN: I read one interview where you stated a list of goals that you wanted to achieve with Samurai Jack (Too much talking, way too complicated plotlines for a half hour, and not enough good action). Are you working off a comparable list of goals for Sym-Bionic Titan?
GENNDY TARTAKOVSKY: Yes, we did have some goals to shoot for at the beginning of the production. Before I start any show or movie, or really anything, I think about what I am going to really do. Storytelling-wise we really set out to make a character motivated action/drama/ comedy. We wanted to bring the humor and complexity of teenage life to the screen, as well as some amazing action sequences. After doing Dexter’s Lab and Powerpuff Girls, I felt like we’ve explored that age 4-12 range of experiences that happen to you as a kid. Our goal was to focus on themes that were older.
Visually, we also pushed ourselves to do something different. We wanted to make sure that it felt like nothing that we have done before. I wanted to push ourselves to do something more “drawn” and volumetric but still retain some of our design sense from our previous shows.
TZN: Is Sym-Bionic Titan going to be structured around story-arcs or will they be more stand-alone episodes like Samurai Jack or Dexter’s Lab?
GENNDY TARTAKOVSKY: Titan definitely has a large story-arc that we are executing. Each episode does work as a stand alone but if you jump in on episode 9, there is a lot of information that you are missing. Also, there are huge operatic story arcs that we track through the run of the series.
TZN: How are you animating Sym-Bionic Titan? Does it differ from your methods in animating your shows in the past?
GENNDY TARTAKOVSKY: The show is pretty much still done exactly the same way as we did Samurai Jack and Clone Wars. It has hand drawn fully animated characters with CG/toon-shaded robots and vehicles.
TZN: The rule for most animated action shows is hand-drawn people and CGI vehicles. The Titan could have gone either way, but he seems to be CGI while the other giant monsters look hand-drawn. Why did you choose to do Titan in CGI?
GENNDY TARTAKOVSKY: We wanted to do a more complex design with the transparent shell so it presents obvious complexities. I was always very pleased at how our Clone Wars CGI animation turned out and wanted to see if we could continue that into character animation. Also using CG made perspective and scale a little easier for us. Having a lot of up and down angle simplified everything.
TZN: You’ve used giant robots in a lot of your earlier shows, though shows like Dexter’s Lab tended to use them to send-up the genre. Are you changing up your approach to giant robots now that you’re doing a more “serious” giant robot show?
GENNDY TARTAKOVSKY: We never really tried to send up the genre, but we loved Giant Robots so much we wanted to try to do it ourselves. In all those Dexter robot episodes the intent was more of an homage to that genre rather then parody or satire. In Titan we just tried to make them as cool as possible.
TZN: The pacing of Sym-Bionic Titan feels very different from your earlier shows. Is this something you’re doing consciously, and if so, why?
GENNDY TARTAKOVSKY: I actually think my sense of pacing is the same for everything that I do. It’s just the project that demands the pacing to be a certain way. For Jack there was a lot of opportunity for slower moments where it was one man vs. nature. For Titan there are a lot of characters and always multiple story lines so it makes the pacing a bit more faster because there is a lot to get through. But with each episode we began to understand how everything was playing out.
TZN: Are you involved at all in the new DVD releases of Dexter’s Laboratory?
GENNDY TARTAKOVSKY: Unfortunately not. We did give them a bunch of early Dexter development artwork, but they weren’t able to include it this time around. Perhaps on a future DVD or maybe one day when I get a chance I will create a blog with all the artwork that goes in to figuring out how a show looks and works.
GENNDY TARTAKOVSKY: I am still working on it. All four issues are written and thumbnailed out. I am so close to finishing it but the time to finish has definitely been an issue. But, it has always been a dream of mine to draw a comic for Marvel and this is my chance so I promise you I won’t let it pass.
TZN: Is there any more news about the Samurai Jack animated feature film you can share? Now that you’re working with Cartoon Network again, are you going to try to do a finale for Samurai Jack? Do you even have an ending in mind for the show?
GENNDY TARTAKOVSKY: We are currently writing the Samurai Jack movie. All I can say is that features progress very slowly, but it seems like we are going to make it. But in the movie business it can take 5 to 7 years before it actually hits the screens. Hopefully it will be much sooner than that. As far as I know CN has no plans for a finale for Samurai Jack…and YES I have an amazing ending figured out!! Write letters! Demand that they make me do it! Please!
Toonzone would like to thank Mr. Tartakovsky for taking the time to speak with us, and for the many folks at Turner PR who made it possible. Sym-Bionic Titan premieres on Friday, September 17, 2010, at 8:00 PM (Eastern/Pacific). Check out Toonzone News’ earlier coverage for more information, or our review of the premiere episodes of the show.